Posted: 8/29/2021


To the Class of 1972,

Below is a summation of my Academic Year 2020-2021 efforts as the Class of 1972 Distinguished Military Professor for Character Education.


Teaching and mentoring midshipmen is at the core of my responsibilities as your Distinguished Military Professor. I focused my teaching efforts on two different courses this academic year. My first class was the youngster NE203 Ethics and Moral Reasoning for the Naval Leader course, which is a foundational study of the application of ethical thought and character development as it pertains to future Navy and Marine Corps junior officers. This core NE203 course just completed an extensive curriculum review cycle. I was a voting member on the small faculty team charged with updating the course material to reflect the most current developments in ethical thought as well as updating case studies to reflect recent events in the fleet. I am happy to report that our revised curriculum was recently approved by the Yard-wide curriculum committee. Thanks to the efforts of many faculty members, the midshipmen will continue to receive the most up-to-date material in their study of military leadership and ethics.

My second course was HH386 History of Modern Counterinsurgency. This course is an upper-level history of irregular warfare from post-World War II through present day conflicts. The curriculum offered numerous opportunities to discuss the complex combat environments that these midshipmen might encounter and to allow them to experience, vicariously, the difficulties of leading well in these environments. Teaching this academic year amidst the COVID pandemic presented many unique challenges — from fully online virtual teaching to masked live teaching, to half of a class section in-person while the other class members tuned in virtually. I am proud of both the faculty and the midshipmen for their resilience and persistence in moving forward with the academic and professional curriculum despite these challenges.

In addition to teaching departmental courses, I also advised several midshipman research teams working on technical capstone research projects. My advisory work with the technical capstone research projects allows me to “have a voice” in multiple academic departments around the Yard as well as giving me the opportunity to send midshipmen summer interns to work on priority projects with Naval Special Warfare Command. These efforts all contribute to the “Character in the Curriculum” program that I lead with the goal of synchronizing character initiatives with the larger USNA academic and professional programs.


Even with Covid-19 restrictions, the USNA Character Development Program had a very successful year supporting the Naval Academy’s Strategic Plan. Beginning in July 2020, while following strict COVID protocols, my team delivered Character Development Lessons to the 30 plebe platoons of the Class of 2024. The purpose of these lessons is to inspire the newest midshipman candidates to become standard-bearers of the naval profession as they join the Brigade at the start of the fall semester. Unfortunately, COVID required us to cancel each plebe company traveling on a Saturday morning to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a tour and educational program designed specifically for military personnel. This training took place virtually thanks to the flexibility and professionalism of the museum staff.

For the Firsties, typically every member of the Class of 2021 would have attended a daylong John R. Elliott Character Capstone Seminar. These seminars help develop collaboration in the field of ethical leadership as we train the 1/C to think like officers and begin their transition from being midshipmen to commissioned officers. We had to revert to virtual seminars this academic year. To increase the relevance of the training, we designed a new mentoring series to supplement the virtual seminars titled “The Character of a Warfighter.” During these mentoring sessions, we invited active duty officers from specific warfare communities to join us online to mentor small groups of midshipmen aspiring to enter these communities. The midshipman reviews of these sessions were overwhelmingly positive as they felt they were able to connect with “the fleet” while asking questions of both junior and senior officers in whose steps they hoped to soon walk.

Our plans for the Class of 2022 also did not escape COVID-19 mitigation. Normally, the USNA Character Development Program hosts the Travis Manion Foundation immediately after Spring Break to deliver the “If not me, then who…” inspirational talk to the 2/C. The purpose of the lecture is to inspire the soon-to-be Firsties to step up into their proper leadership role within the Brigade. This year, we had to move the lecture date and abbreviate the live lecture delivery, all while socially distancing the Class of 2022 throughout Alumni Hall — but we were able to move forward with this important lecture series which had been cancelled last academic year.

Finally, as the Distinguished Military Professor for Character Education, I take a leading role in curriculum development. We are excited that we will soon be integrating a new “Warrior Toughness” curriculum in the Plebe Summer Character Development lessons for the Class of 2025. This new material is in the final stages of development as I write and will be implemented in July 2021 when the Class of 2025 reports for Plebe Summer in just a few short weeks. We expect immediate benefits from this program as we seek to expand the implementation of “Warrior Toughness” initiatives across all aspects of Plebe training.


With that, I would like to say again, thank you. Thank you, Class of 1972, for your faith in me. I look forward to another year as your DMP and to seeing many of you at occasional events (or even a football tailgate as we begin to re-open in Maryland) around Annapolis.

Until then, fair winds and following seas, CAPT Thomas L. Robertson ’89, USN